Adipocytes under assault: environmental disruption of adipose physiology

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 Mar;1842(3):520-33. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2013.05.028. Epub 2013 Jun 2.


The burgeoning obesity epidemic has placed enormous strains on individual and societal health mandating a careful search for pathogenic factors, including the contributions made by endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). In addition to evidence that some exogenous chemicals have the capacity to modulate classical hormonal signaling axes, there is mounting evidence that several EDCs can also disrupt metabolic pathways and alter energy homeostasis. Adipose tissue appears to be a particularly important target of these metabolic disruptions. A diverse array of compounds has been shown to alter adipocyte differentiation, and several EDCs have been shown to modulate adipocyte physiology, including adipocytic insulin action and adipokine secretion. This rapidly emerging evidence demonstrating that environmental contaminants alter adipocyte function emphasizes the potential role that disruption of adipose physiology by EDCs may play in the global epidemic of metabolic disease. Further work is required to better characterize the molecular targets responsible for mediating the effects of EDCs on adipose tissue. Improved understanding of the precise signaling pathways altered by exposure to environmental contaminants will enhance our understanding of which chemicals pose a threat to metabolic health and how those compounds synergize with lifestyle factors to promote obesity and its associated complications. This knowledge may also improve our capacity to predict which synthetic compounds may alter energy homeostasis before they are released into the environment while also providing critical evidentiary support for efforts to restrict the production and use of chemicals that pose the greatest threat to human metabolic health. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Modulation of Adipose Tissue in Health and Disease.

Keywords: Adipocyte differentiation; Adipose tissue; EDCs; Endocrine disruptor; Metabolism; Pollution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / drug effects*
  • Adipocytes / pathology
  • Adipose Tissue / drug effects*
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Endocrine Disruptors / administration & dosage*
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Obesity / chemically induced
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Insulin